Director Joslyn Rose Lyons on Capturing Former NBA Star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s Truth in Showtime Documentary ‘Stand’ Most Popular Must Read Sign Up for Variety Newsletters More From Our Brands

Former NBA star Mahmoud Abdul Rauf tells his story — both on and off the court — with the guidance of director Jocelyn Rose Lyons in the Showtime documentary “Stand.”

The documentary examines how Abdul Rauf’s standout playing career was derailed by controversy over his decision not to stand during the game of “The Star Spangled Banner”. But it aims to capture more than just the protest — which came 20 years before NFL star Colin Kaepernick took a knee — and instead focuses on the finer points of Abdul Rauf’s life before and after professional basketball. focuses, showing how he found himself taking a stand for his beliefs.

“I don’t know if it was the right time or not, only God knows,” Abdul Rauf explains. Variety, when asked why she decided to share her story now. “However, over the years I’ve read more, I’ve met more people, a lot has changed, while the same has remained the same. With more voices among athletes, I feel it’s as good a time as any.” was as much as any time. And we are not promised tomorrow.

The film, which debuted last Friday, delves deep into Abdul Rauf’s history. Chris Jackson was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, the son of Jacqueline Jackson, a single mother who worked hard to raise him and his two brothers, Omar and David. The young man dreamed of becoming one of the best basketball players in the world, while battling undiagnosed Tourette’s syndrome, eventually becoming a star player at LSU and joining the NBA in 1990. In 1991, he converted to Islam, changing his name for a few years. later on

Throughout his career, Abdul Rauf was known for his distinctive style of play, described in the documentary by Mahershala Ali (who was a college basketball player before becoming an Oscar-winning actor) as “Stephen Curry before Stephen Curry”. was described. In fact, Curry is also seen in the documentary discussing his talent comparison, acknowledging that Abdul Rauf was the pioneer of the sport. But Abdul Rauf’s career was cut short.

In 1996, members of the media noticed that Abdul Rauf was not standing with his bandmates during a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”. The player’s personal decision became an international controversy, with Abdul Rauf becoming the target of hate speech and Islamophobia. He was suspended and fined by the league and eventually compromised, choosing to pray in silence instead, but the controversy took a toll on his playing career, with opportunities falling away left and right. Outside the court, Abdul Rauf continued to be attacked, with criticism becoming so violent that his house was burnt down.

When Lyons boarded the documentary last summer, she was already familiar with Abdel Rauf — specifically his diagnosis with Tourette’s syndrome, his conversion to Islam and news coverage of his protests.

“The media did a great job of creating a narrative: He didn’t stand for the anthem, period, and he was Muslim,” she recalls. “Because social media didn’t exist, because there wasn’t an opportunity for him to put a movement behind it the way we’ve seen so many other athletes make their stand now.”

So, it wasn’t until she got the chance to dive deeper into Abdul Rauf’s life that she began to understand the man behind the headlines.

“I was very sensitive to the fact that there was a much deeper story that wasn’t being told,” Levin added. “And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to direct this film. Because part of our job as storytellers is to bring into focus things that have been left in the dark.

From the first meeting between Lyons and Abdul Rauf, it was clear that they were on the same page.

“Jocelyn Rose is easy to talk to,” says Abdul Rauf, praising the filmmaker. “She’s willing to share her ideas and what she has and she’s a good listener. She’s a creative visionary.”

Part of their connection can be chalked up to their religious backgrounds — Lyons converted to Islam in 2003 — but the connection was also, somehow, deeper.

“The creative trust was there immediately, and I don’t take that for granted, because that’s not always the case with storytelling and projects. But I also know that when that synergy exists in a project, you “There’s a force behind it that’s bigger,” adds Lyons. “It’s a story that’s asking to be told, and it’s telling us how to tell it.”

Director Jocelyn Rose Lyons with Mehmood Abdul Rauf and Mahershala Ali in “The Stand.”
Iman Awan / Showtime

With over a decade of experience directing music videos and short films under his belt, Lyons made his feature directorial debut with “Stand.”

“I’m honored to direct this film for Showtime, a network that has been a pillar of inspiration in my filmmaking journey,” she says. “I am grateful to have worked with an amazing creative team – especially my editor Dan Shulman-Manz, who spent countless hours with me exploring the structure of this complex story, and my music composer Matthew Head – who “The brilliant score gave my vision a heartbeat.”

Much of Lyons’ work has been at the intersection of hip-hop culture, social justice and sports, with the filmmaker serving as producer and music director for the NAACP Image Award-winning documentary “Speaking Truth to Power.” which features artists. Common, RZA Wu-Tang Clan, Robert Glasper, Mahershala Ali, E-40, Talib Kweli and Vince Staples, plus his lengthy filmography of award-winning short films.

“The storytelling techniques of music and hip-hop and activism, there’s an edge, and my creative process has always been about finding the edges and going beyond that,” Lyons says. “Because when you find the edges and you go past them, that’s where medicine is a story. That’s where we get out of our comfort zone, our excellence zone, and we find that genius zone. Goes where something magical is happening. So, I feel connected to my roots in that way.

In the case of “The Stand,” Lyons was hired to oversee a documentary that was already in production. The team of producers – led by Colleen Dominguez and Tom Friend, along with Mandalay Sports Media executive producers Sarah Allen, Mike Toolen and Mason Gordon – spent a lot of time on the field with Abdul Rauf, who sat in for him. . A long and candid interview about your experiences.

The documentary also features exclusive interviews with Abdul Rauf’s family. Several basketball stars — including his former teammates and contemporaries, Steve Kerr, Shaquille O’Neal and Jalen Rose; and entertainers like Ice Cube, who founded the BIG3 basketball league where Abdul Rauf now plays.

While primarily focused on the cinematic variety elements of the production, Lyons interviewed Mahershala Ali, with whom he has worked for more than 20 years, on music videos (“Honor Code,” “The Majors “) and collaborated for a short film (2008). “Sad Heart”). He also directed a remote shoot with Abdul Rauf in Gulfport, as he met his family of origin for the first time.

“Before I came on board, our producers spent a lot of time researching her life,” explains Lyons. “Something that really struck me. [was] About her father that everything she did was done through the lens of hoping to get her father’s attention, so that maybe her father would want to meet her. And it was very powerful.”

As Lyons reviewed the footage, the theme of Abdul Rauf not knowing his father came up several times, including an interview in which he confirmed it was a motivation for him.

“[That interview] It crystallized something more for me about how I could tie some of these disjointed story beats together,” she says. “Because Tourette syndrome, basketball, his stance with the NBA and a spiritual transition, all these different things, the connecting thread comes from something deep within him, I think, wanting to find peace. So, I leaned towards it.”

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“I made my first documentary, “Sounds of Spirit,” when I was 22,” Lyons explains. “My dad could never really show up for birthdays and whatnot, but he showed up at the premiere, and it was like, ‘That’s my daughter.’ I understood Mahmood’s need for it.

Jocelyn Rose Lyons directed Mahmoud Abdul Rauf on the set of “The Stand”.
Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Lyons acknowledges the desire to be seen, which became a driving factor in Abdul Rauf’s life, as he did himself.

“Through our pain, we often find our purpose,” she explains. “Mahmoud’s pain was probably like a compass for him. And maybe it inspired him – as it often does in our lives – to pursue greatness, to do great things. As he says, ‘Where there are cracks, there grows a rose.’ I think Mahmood is a witness to this.

She admits that this idea of ​​long-lost love, all audiences can relate to.

“There’s one for everyone – whether it’s a dream deferred, whether it’s a parent who never showed up, or it’s literally a long-lost love, it’s about those heartbreaks, and those struggles. is through which we derive our strength,” Lyons shares. “Often, the things that are missing are the very things that help us strive to be what we want to be.”

One motif that Lyons used to capture Abdul Rauf’s inner journey was shadow boxing, a practice that, fortunately, he had started practicing years before. It’s a visual metaphor, Lyons explains, “so that we can visually see how he faced those shadows and found his light.”

It was one of the first things the filmmaker and subject discussed. “We talked about it. [he] I had a fighter in my life,” she recalls. “And I was studying shadowboxing for my first narrative scripted feature, ‘Shadowbox.’ I couldn’t help but think about Mahmoud’s journey through this lens because he went through literal fire—his house was burned to the ground by the KKK—he went through spiritual fire, emotional fire, and he still Risen like a phoenix. He still managed. He was an alchemist.”

From there, Lyons began conceptualizing the shoot, creating a book of visuals, aiming to capture Abdul Rauf’s “warrior spirit” on camera.

“Sometimes we don’t always have the ability to shine our light at the same time as the armor we have to put on for strength, courage and fearlessness to face these battles,” she says. “He never stopped shining, and that just makes him a very, very deep human being. I really wanted to show that there’s a humanity to his story.

Abdul Rauf also shared that he hopes the audience will walk away with the complete film.

“Whatever someone is going through in their life, we all have the same issues in our lives as human beings,” he said. “Some people are dealing with faith, family, finances, not feeling good enough because of their upbringing, how to navigate through it all and develop yourself and whatever comes your way. Be able to face things.”

Likewise, Lyons hopes audiences will be moved by Abdul Rauf’s story.

“I hope he stands as a pillar, a beacon of light, somewhat of a North Star for other people in our world,” she says. “I want to believe that Mahmoud’s story is an example, that you can overcome anything by being fearless. Because he was.”

Although we often equate vulnerability with vulnerability, she explains, it was Abdul Raouf’s courage to show such vulnerability in his interviews for the film, as well as throughout his career as a basketball player and as a person. He was on a spiritual journey which was the key to it. Finding its strength.

“I would also hope that this film and Mahmood’s story is a reminder to people that being vulnerable is actually part of being a warrior,” she adds. “It’s never too late to stand up for what you believe in.”

Mahmoud Abdul Raouf in “Stand”.
Courtesy of SHOWTIME

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